Rugby looks to S15 for boost

2011-02-11 11:28

Wellington - Southern hemisphere rugby officials are banking on the revamped Super 15 competition to revive the sport's appeal to fans and broadcasters in difficult economic times and in an increasingly cutthroat sports marketplace.

The inclusion of a fifth Australian team based in sports-mad Melbourne, the establishment of regional conferences to produce more fan-friendly derby matches, and the substantial lengthening of the season are all intended to offer value to broadcasters and intrigue to fans.

The organisers SANZAR believes the changes will help reverse a recent decline in live and television audiences and rejuvenate a competition which began with 12 teams in 1996, increased to 14 teams in 1996 and will now have 15, with suggestions of further expansion into the Pacific and South America.

Rugby is in a strong position in New Zealand, particularly as it prepares to host this year's Rugby World Cup. In South Africa, home of the Bulls who won last year's Super 14, rugby weathered the inevitable upsurge in the profile and popularity of football during and after last year's FIFA World Cup.

But in Australia, rugby faces immense pressure to maintain its audience share in what Australian Rugby Union chief executive John O'Neill calls a "incredibly bloodthirsty market."

In some surveys, rugby has fallen back to ninth place of the list of Australia's most popular sports, a ranking which jeopardizes broadcaster interest and sponsorship support. O'Neill says the Super 15 and its Australian-focused expansion will change that.

"2011 is the year where we are going to make our move back into a much improved and popular game," O'Neill said. "In our own niche our aim is to restore our popularity back to where it was in 2003 (after Australia hosted the World Cup)."

The Super 15 expansion complement other moves to make rugby appealing to fans. Rule changes last year sought to make rugby a faster game with fewer stoppages and succeeded, particularly in the southern hemisphere, in producing more tries.

"Of course it is about winning rugby, but philosophically we are there to bring the fans back to our game - to entertain and to win," O'Neill said.

"It's not about stodge, it's not about a stop-start game, it's about continuity, it's about attack and it's about a bit of adventure.

"If we are not entertaining people it shows up and it has been showing up until last year in crowds and ratings."

There are skeptics about whether the changes will lure new fans. The rugby season is already long - stretching for southern hemisphere players between February and December - and critics argue the Super 15 season, now running from February to July, will test fans' endurance.

South African Rugby Union chief executive Jurie Roux expressed reservations about the length of the season, and the proliferation of derby matches, saying the physical demands on players were becoming too great.

"It's going to be brutal," Roux said

"Everybody is very excited about the new tournament format and it's going to generate a lot of interest. Derby matches are always well supported and from that perspective I'm expecting bigger interest in the tournament."

Springboks coach Peter de Villiers also expressed concern that the Super 15 would tire players unduly in a World Cup year.

"There is a concern that the players could physically be totally exhausted after the Super Rugby competition," De Villiers said. "The competition is going to be more intense and therefore more exhausting.

"The fact they will play home and away against each of the other South African teams means the intensity will be even higher. But the man in the street in South Africa doesn't worry about competing against the rest of the world, if his team is the best here then he's happy."

The first-year Melbourne Rebels face the difficult task of establishing themselves in a diluted player pool. But the Rebels have in coach Rod Macqueen and captain Stirling Mortlock, two wise heads and powerful personalities to guide their growth.

"All the work we put in the for the last three months is going well -we've got a fitness that we're happy with," Macqueen said. "There's no substitute for on-field performance, and now that's what we've got to look to.

"It is a big challenge and we know that. We're working hard to make sure we're competitive."

Under the format for the first Super 15, teams will be divided into five-team conferences from each of the three host countries. Teams will play their conference rivals both home and away.

They will then play four of the five teams from the other two conferences either home or away. The top team from each conference qualifies automatically for the playoffs, guaranteeing a finalist from each country. They will be joined by the three teams which have the highest competition points, regardless of nation.

The first season of the new tournament coincides with the Rugby World Cup, adding to its intrigue as the southern hemisphere rivals flex their muscles and hope to avoid injuries which might damage their Cup campaigns.


  • kosie - 2011-02-11 11:38

    if south african teams start dominating super rugby, there will always only be two teams in the semi's, cause there is no way you can have 4 teams in the semis, because of the local derbies SA Teams will knock each other out. don't like this new conference thing

  • lawnservicebobs - 2011-02-11 11:51

    "But the man in the street in South Africa doesn't worry about competing against the rest of the world, if his team is the best here then he's happy." He obviously doesn't know what the hell he is talking about. The Super 14 was always about the mini-internationals.The big three - SA/Australia/NZ battling it out. If I want to know who the best local team is I'll watch the Currie Cup. I wish they would go back to the Super 12. Have four teams per country and improve the quality of the teams and thus games. Australia just doesn't have the players for an extra team and I'm starting to think that SA also has one too many teams. I also remember in the past it was possible to watch most games. Now there are just going to be too many games so I'll proably just follow the top 2 SA teams for the pool games. From discussions with most of my friends I know I'm not alone.

  • Stuka - 2011-02-11 11:55

    "If we are not entertaining you are not entertaining me, if I wanted to watch boring local games I'd wait for the Currie Cup, I would rather go and watch a Cusaders vs. a SA team than the usual local teams week in and week out.

  • Andrew - 2011-02-11 12:02

    John o'Neill is a virus. Trying to make more money with more teams and more games. Just because AUS does'nt have a provincial comp. What if they do badly with the extra team dilluting their rugga. They will have less support for the game in AUS. Go back to super 12. 4 teams per nation. Each team with a 3 to 4 week travel overseas and lets have some good competition.

  • arnoyoung - 2011-02-11 12:04

    I like rugby but there is just too much of it. If there were only three I'd make sure I was there to watch it, but these days it's like soapies. If I miss this weekend, there's another ten coming up next weekend. Sadly, less is more.

  • sulaiman.adam13 - 2011-02-11 12:15

    I think this is a stupid competition. I just read the first paragraph and already disagree. The Currie Cup is played in front of packed stadiums, so we don't need more of these derbies. We have 2 Currie Cups in effect, how boring.

  • Jim - 2011-02-11 12:20

    Rugby Union has become one big yawn.Bring on Rugby League,much faster and more entertaining.

      Stox - 2011-02-11 13:20

      Eww. League is definitely faster, but more one dimensional. I did security for league games in England and I noticed that all the players have the same basic physique, no matter what position they play. It's just "run run run". To me, league isn't actually "rugby" the way it's meant to be. Union is more diverse, complicated, involved, interesting and most of all - strategic. I know it's an opinion thing, but I love most sports, and Union is by far the most entertaining and involved sport to watch. Of course, if you like league, then cool, I'm all for that. But not at the expense of "real" rugby.

      Black Falcon - 2011-02-11 14:02

      What are you smoking Jim? Rugby league more entertaining? I can't even sit through more than five minutes of a league game without trying to tear my hair out. Only one way to describe it.......Boooooorrrrrrrrrrriiiiiiiiinnnnnnnnggggggggg!!!!!!!!

  • Paul - 2011-02-11 12:21

    This will be the death of our currie cup. For SA supporters we will end up watching our provincial sides play 4 times a year against each other excluding semis & finals. Currie cup will never be best against best.

  • dave.amato - 2011-02-11 12:26

    This has very little do with the rugby players and watching public and more to do with greedy rugby bosses wanting more money. Super rugby needs less teams not more teams. Vote with your remote and turn it off!

  • Adrian - 2011-02-11 12:44

    I prefer to watch our local teams compete against international opposition. We have had our local derby,s (Currie Cup) since 1889 with it becoming a formal annual event as we know it in 1968. This is obviously an Aussie idea as they have no equivalent competition. How SARU could have agreed to this , i dont know (Money???). In essence , we'll have 2 Currie Cup each year now , intermingled with a few overseas games. See SA audiences drop drastically.

  • Capey - 2011-02-11 12:48

    This whole myth of rugby losing support is an australian thing - rugby has never been healthier in SA, NZ, France England and the home nations! Our Currie Cup is booming, our rugby is in great shape - why we give a rats about the aussie whingers, I just can't understand. We should have cut them loose, but us and NZ have caved in, and now we have the S15. Local derbies? We have plenty of those during the Currie Cup AND S14 anyway - this is all to try and prop up their non-system of local rugby. On the plus side for us, it will give more players a chance to show themselves ahead of the world cup, and there is more rugby to watch on weekends, but this is a heads up - the ozzies only care about themselves, thats a fact. Give O'neill an inch, he will take a mile and make you look bad in the process.

  • as06777 - 2011-02-11 12:51

    I know no one from SANZAR is going to read this comment. For them to improve interest in the game again is very easy. Firstly, stop biased refereeing. Any SA team against a NZ or AUS team with a foreign referee is not worth watching. SA team will come of second best most of the time thanks to the ref. Just have a look at the punishment when a player is cited. Not the same for all countries. SA players will always get bigger sentences/suspensions for their transgressions. The fans are sick of this obvious behaviour and are showing it in live support. Secondly, have a look at the ridiculous ticket prices. As a family of 4 whom all loves to watch rugby, it will cost me R400 to R480 every time we go to Newlands. 8 games without any quarter, semi or final will cost me R3200 to R3840 in ticket prices. Not to mention refreshments. Watching at home cost me a lot less for the season. So wake up SANZAR. It’s not the rugby or the format but other factors that’s affecting the crowd attendances.

      sessisie - 2011-02-11 14:12

      I absolutely agree.

  • Jeff - 2011-02-11 12:53

    What about the Super 10 which ran from 1993 to 1995? Memory loss or bad reporting. Bad reporting. The article says" which began with 12 teams in 1996, increased to 14 in 1996"

  • Stox - 2011-02-11 13:38

    Basically put: we have arguably the best domestic structure in the world with the Currie Cup. That is for our local derby's. Super 15 is a slightly bigger "step up" into the international arena, and so we want to see how our provincial sides can fare against the other top rugby nations in the world, not our own which we have already seen in the Currie Cup. Also this "no country can have 4 teams in the semi's" crap... thats like in primary school when we weren't allowed to open the batting and bowling because we need to give Johnny a chance too. This is world class stuff. If a team isn't the most qualified to get into the semi's, then tough. This will result in a poorer quality semi and final stage. I would like to see a pure, undiluted, international rugby fest please. International provincial rugby at it's best, and the best teams and countries getting what they deserve. All you Rugby Boss men, we want to see international sides play in an international tournament. If Aus need more derby's for cash and interest, then they should create a local tournament al la Currie Cup instead of hijacking and molding the Super 15 to suit them best. We do it perfectly, and we're just "dumb, stupid, meaty, complaining Saffa's".

  • Haas Das - 2011-02-11 13:57

    John O'Neil is a real twat. Cant we somehow bring back The Big Louis Luyt to shove his mouth down his arse?

  • Batonage1000 - 2011-02-11 14:02

    This format will be the death of super rugby. I am already bored with it, and it hasn't even started.

  • sessisie - 2011-02-11 14:10

    I can't remember when last I watched Vodacom and Currie Cup games. I want international competition.

  • Mike - 2011-02-11 14:12

    not only will it not bring new fans, but it will lose old ones. I for one have no interest in watching 8 local derby matches. That is what the Currie Cup is for. This will also have a negative effect on the Springboks, as here in SA we play a very physical game. The only reason for this is so that the aussies can have a team in the semi finals. Pathetic

  • Makutu - 2011-02-11 15:38

    "rejuvenate a competition which began with 12 teams in 1996, increased to 14 teams in 1996 and will now have 15"...? LOL! Really now?

  • Capey - 2011-02-11 16:20

    Maybe we can spice up this new format by having a Louis Luyt v John O'neill boxing match during the first round, and then just replay it at half time of all the following matches. How could you tire of watching O'neill admit that they wanted the S15 so the ozzies could save face, and get a team in the semis - with both of his feet up his arse!

  • Midnic - 2011-02-14 08:44

    There was nothing wrong with Super 14, why change it!?

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